By Gamini Gunawadane
I have been reading Kuldip Nayar’s feature articles with interest as they generally presented a different view of India. But I was rather perturbed to read his recent article on Sri Lanka. I would wish to express my humble opinion on some of the issues raised by him therein.
Really the ‘cat is out of the bag’ on his actual concern and the message he wanted to convey is clear, in his last sentence. He says "But if Colombo continues to encourage China and Pakistan, India would have to do something to safeguard its interests." What a patronizing statement!
So what is unsaid here is that Sri Lanka being the neighbour, India will choose whom Sri Lanka should associate with and her friends! Ignoring the insult, let me explain the Sri Lankan side of the story. It is not Pakistan or China who created this mess for Sri Lanka by creating the Monster that is Tamil Tiger Movement, by providing them a safe haven, training them and arming them in their formative years, with which Sri Lanka had been struggling with for the last 30 years and finally succeeded in wiping them out by the dint of her own hard work, which caused so much suffering to the Tamils themselves whose welfare he is now mourning over. If not for this short sighted policy, perhaps Rajiv Gandhi may have been still living, who knows?
Although it is conceded that the ultimate success would not have been possible if not for the ‘hands off’ policy by India this time during our final campaign, we know that India did that not for our sake but for its own sake, because the ‘Monster’ they created was becoming a real threat their to security and political stability. Thus, Sri Lanka did a big favour by India, by removing a looming threat to her security and stability when Sri Lanka saved her from a serious impending crisis with no cost to India, for which India should in fact be grateful to Sri Lanka. It reminds me of the famous lion and the mouse story.
Yet, during this difficult campaign, when India was refusing to help us with the weapons we asked for and were trying to tell us which weapons and military devices we should use and not use, it was Pakistan and China who readily helped us all the way. Not content with nurturing the Sri Lankan terrorists, when India denied the Sri Lanka military men admission to their higher Military Training establishments, it was Pakistan who opened theirs readily. Pakistan also co-operated with the Sri Lankan Air Force, exchanging their know-how with us. Incidentally, it was neither China nor Pakistan who nurtured Tamil terrorists in their countries.
It is true that India has helped us in this effort; but it was always in exchange for a bigger deal in return. Nayar says: "New Delhi has also allocated a large sum of money for rehabilitating the Tamils who have suffered during the war." Not only that. India is doing the Northern Railway line, re-developing Palali Airport and obtained a contract to construct a coal powered plant in Trincomalee etc. etc. But look at what they extracted in return. A consular office in Jaffna and Hambantota, of all places. For what? I may ask.
It is common knowledge here that the Jaffna office given unasked, is to serve as a watch post for RAW and to churn up another revolt if the need arises, through the RAW, in time to come. And what is the Hambantota office going to do, other than to serve as a watch post for the RAW, thinking that China is going to have a military base here! Could India be so naïve to imagine that Sri Lanka will entertain such fancy ideas? In Sinhala there is a saying Ahaka yana nai sarama asse daagannawa meaning: "one does not tuck under one’s sarong, cobras that are going away." Our President is quite familiar with all this folklore. He is a man of the soil.
True, China in return have got many mega contracts here. They have given them on very low interest credit. They did not ask us for a pound of flesh, like some others. They did not scrutinize our bank balance and our earning capacity like the World Bank or the IMF. before they released the loan in tranches watching our work and conduct. The Chinese do not try to teach us how we should spend our money and try to brainwash us on how to manage our affairs as they do. In short, they have not impeached our self respect as a nation. They have not tried to influence our way of life. As somebody pointed out, they have even brought their own prostitutes for their work force. So what, as long as they take them back to their next work site?
Besides, is it nothing but proper to reciprocate China in whatever way we could as they have been our unfailing friend with no questions asked when almost the entire Western world was bringing pressure on us during the height of our crisis. And Pakistan who had done all this without asking anything in return, a true friend indeed.
Nayar says in one place: "He (Rajiv Gandhi) even sent an Indian Peace Keeping Force when the Sri Lankan government was in trouble". Oh my foot! This makes the whole of Sri Lanka laugh aloud. J.R. Jayewardene himself must be laughing in his grave! Who put the Sri Lankan government in trouble, may I ask? Who prevented the Sri Lankan forces from dealing the knockout blow to Prabhakaran in July1987, with the ‘Parippu invasion’, may I ask? If not for the unseemly, crude intervention of India on that occasion we would have saved all the lives of several thousands of Sri Lankans lost till 1 ½ years ago, of the many Indian soldiers as well as that of Rajiv Gandhi himself. That was not Pakistan or China. And who do you think Rajiv Gandhi was, to ‘persuade’ Sri Lanka to include an Annexure C in our own Constitution?
Have you heard of any such thing happening anywhere else in the world? Did Sri Lanka ever try to tell India how to solve their Kashmir problem where heinous human rights violations are alleged to be occurring regularly? Have we asked for a war crimes inquiry against India? That is not all. We are still struggling here with the 13th Amendment that Rajiv Gandhi forced on our Constitution, and are left helpless with the Provincial Councils set up here as a result, which has turned out to be a white elephant. And he says : ‘A federal structure is what is needed in Sri Lanka so that the North has a feeling that it is as much part of the country as other areas area+". A federal structure for Sri Lanka which is minutely smaller than the smallest state in India? And that in this age of communication revolution? You must be kidding.
Nayar refers to the Sri Lankan government as "Sinhalese government". A Sinhalese government when several Tamils and Muslims are holding Ministerial positions in our jumbo cabinet. How come?
Mr. Nayar an ex-diplomat of repute in India should know better. If not for the proportional representation system in our constitution, very few of these people would even reached parliament. "….. to persuade Rajapaksa to decentralize power and to have the North to have a say in their own affairs". Who does Nayar think are the government agents in Jaffna, Mannar and Batticaloa are, but Tamils?
So are all the officers in the administrative bureaucracy there, down to the grassroots level. So are the top of the corporate sector in these parts. So, where is the "Sinhalese Government"? Are the structures in the rest of the country any different? So where do we need the advice of Nirupama Rao? It would be a better exercise for her to study the administrative structures here at some depth, to advice her own government.
"This will only confirm their belief that they (Tamils) are second-class citizens". Could Nayar please tell us some instances where the Tamils of this country are made to be "second class citizens"?.
This is a genuine enquiry. As far as we know, there are no situations where Tamils or any other community is made to feel "second class". They have held most of the highest positions in this country and some, even todate. They are entitled to the same fundamental rights that the rest of the people are entitled to under the constitution. They are entitled to all the privileges that the rest of the population is enjoying in this country. True, they have suffered setbacks in these opportunities due to the deprivations caused because of the restrictions imposed by Prabhakaran. From now onwards, there are no obstacles down the road.
As regards the national anthem, is the beautiful Indian national anthem sung in any other language than Bengali? Do the rest of the people in all the other Indian states thereby become second class citizens as a result? At the same time, will the Tamil Diaspora now domiciled in England and Canada feel second class citizens because they cannot sing the national anthems of those countries in Tamil? On the same line of argument, will the Sri Lankan anthem have to be sung in Malay too because there is a Malay minority too here? It seems strange that all these things are being decided for Sri Lanka, by other people quite unsolicited.
That brings me to my last point. If only India and other countries in the rest of the world could leave Sri Lanka alone, to manage her own affairs, much of the problems will be solved. True, we have some problems to solve in the aftermath of the ‘war’. We are settling them slowly one by one of our own time. These are not things that could be rushed through, to please others. We have confidence in Rajapaksa to deliver the goods, despite the motley crowd that he has to manage with; he does make mistakes, for he is human. But he has made fewer mistakes than most leaders we have had.
To wind up, let me say this to Kuldip Nayar to be conveyed to the Indian high command, Rahul Gandhi inclusive. Sri Lanka has not gone insane, to be doing things that would jeopardize the interests and fears of India, our closest neighbour. No sane government would do that. For, to do so will be to the ultimate detriment of our country. We are not such fools.
But by unnecessarily bullying and pushing Sri Lanka with condescension, India will only push Sri Lanka more and more into the lap of China, which we do not fancy either. However, a country needs many friends. For, when pushed and bullied by another, there has to be a way out.
Therefore, please understand us in a realistic perspective and the best that India could do is to leave us alone, while managing the cheap rabid communalism of Tamil Nadu as best as you could